This quality standard, best known in Europe, is much higher than current legal mandates within the European Union. It is the quality seal with the strictest requirements for ecological textile production and represents the highest technical level currently available. Since 2000, BEST reflects the standards developed and implemented by iVN for eco-friendly textiles, inspecting the entire textile chain both in terms of ecology and social accountability. Only a select range of products can meet this standard.
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The first step for a company wanting to produce eco-friendly textiles is to formulate its goal. The guidelines for BEST obligate the company to implement an “environmental policy”. This document must be submitted for certification. It lists measures to minimize and monitor waste and pollution, specifies action in the case of waste or contamination and documents employee training regarding economic use of water and energy, the correct minimized use and appropriate disposal of chemicals as well as programs to improve production processes.
The basis for all textiles is the fiber of which they are made. The quality seal BEST places a special emphasis on fiber content. For BEST the surface of a textile product (in other words the actual woven or knitted piece without accessories like zippers, ribbing, interfacing, lining, buttons etc.) must be 100% natural and originate in certified organic production (kbA) or certified organic animal husbandry (kbT). Synthetic fibers, for example elastic fibers, acrylic or rayon can only be used up to 5% for accessories or (as exception) in elastic fabrics used for example for ribbing or lace. Although synthetic fibers offer the advantages of elasticity in lingerie and hosiery, they are unacceptable on an ecological standpoint as their production incurs high energy costs and is based on non-regenerative resources. The production of natural fibers can also incur damage to the environment. Cotton, for example,has a significant environmental impact because it requires the use of large amounts of pesticides and water. However, this environmental cost applies to conventional cotton production as certified organic production does not allow the use of synthetic pesticides and plant protectants. Highly poisonous defoliants used in conventional cotton production are not only forbidden but actually unnecessary, as organic cotton is hand-picked. Production of animal fibers such as wool or silk must also meet high standards: no synthetic pesticide baths for sheep, appropriate husbandry and organic feed.
Once the fiber is produced, there are still many steps necessary to reach the finished garment: for example spinning, dying, weaving, knitting, finishing, cutting or sewing.
All of these production steps can involve the use of dangerous substances that are prohibited or severely restricted for textiles certified as BEST. EU directive 67/548 lists a large number of hazardous substances, specifying a legal classification and identification for each. These are the so-called „R-rates“, also known as risk-rates.. BEST products cannot involve the use of any substances listed in the following categories: carcinogenic, mutagenic, impairing fertility, embryotoxic. Particularly hazardous substances are specifically forbidden or severely restricted: The heading “Permanent AOX” includes different organic compounds based on chrome, bromine, chlorine or fluorides that are not readily biodegradable. They concentrate in organic matter such as blood, fatty tissue or mother's milk and can be carcinogenic. They are common in dyestuffs, teflon or finishing agents used to make textiles water- or flame resistant. Fluorocarbon is an organic fluoride compound in this group. Halogenated and aromatic solvents are also classified as dangerous to health and are suspected of being carcinogenic. As they are volatile, they can be inhaled by workers. Industrial stain removers or printing pastes include these solvents. Carbolic acids such as TCP or PCP are solvents or conserving agents. They are also carcinogenic and dangerous to health. Forbidden complexing and washing agents include APEO, which works via hormones and is poisonous to fish, EDTA and DTPA, both not readily biodegradable. Formaldehyde can trigger allergies and is classified as mutagenic and embryotoxic. It is used as a conserving agent for finishings such as permapress and wrinkle-free and is found in printing pastes. So called quaternary ammonium compounds are poisonous to fish and are common in softeners or used to improve color fastness for reactive dyes. Heavy metals are also unacceptable with the general exception of iron and of copper up to a level of 5% for blue, green and turquoise dyes. Of course, genetically engineered organisms (GVOs) used in industrial starches and enzymes are absolutely forbidden.
The next step after fiber production is yarn production, spinning. Before fibers can be spun, they must be cleansed, primarily of dirt particles. This is done primarily by washing. Any impurities remaining in the yarn after washing are removed either chemically (treatment with sulphuric acid -carbonisation) or mechanically (an environmentally friendly alternative) by combing the yarn. During spinning and twisting anti-friction agents and twisting oils are used which can later pollute waste water and exhaust. BEST allows only paraffin, paraffin oils and substances originating from natural raw materials for this production step and only where necessary.
Finished yarns either undergo further processing such as dying or bleaching, or they are processed into a textile surface, in other words made into fabric. This is done through weaving, knitting or the production of non-woven fleece or interface. To improve thread movement in weaving or knitting, so called anti-friction agents, finishing agents, oils used for spooling, twisting, weaving, or knitting or sizing agents are used. The latter, especially polyvinyl alcohol (PVA), contribute substantially to chemical oxygen demand (COD) of waste water. Many sewage plants cannot break down PVA. Permissible sizing agents for BEST are starches, starch derivatives, other natural substances and CMB (Carboxymethylcellulose). Polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) can only be used up to a quota of < 25% of the total solution and only in combination with natural substances. Oils used for knitting or weaving may not contain heavy metals. Other additives are only permissible on the basis of natural substances. Mineral oils, polyolester oils, silicone and emulsifying agents, anti-static agents or tensides used as additives are not permitted. Non-wovens (fleece/interfacing) can only be made by mechanical production means such as compacting, felting or needles.
Once the textile surface has been created, it is readied for further processing. A number of different methods exist, many of which involve a variety of environmental sins forbidden for BEST products. First off, the fabric is „desized“, in other words the sizing agent previously applied must be removed in order that substances necessary for further production adhere to the fabric. For BEST, only enzymatic substances can be used; acids or persulfates are forbidden. To facilitate dying, fabrics are often bleached. BEST requires that this be done only oxygen, not with chlorine, hydrogen peroxide, soda or tensides. Another frequently used process is mercerizing, a finishing process for cotton. Mercerization involves treating cotton with concentrated caustic soda while it is under tension. Mercerized fabric is more easily dyed and gains a silky sheen and higher tensile strength. This process is not permitted for BEST. BEST standards focus on waste water. Companies involved in finishing must measure and monitor sedimentation, temperature and pH-value. The temperature, copper content and chemical oxygen demand (COD) of waste water must be monitored regularly and meet predetermined limits.
The next step towards the finished product is usually dying or printing. Dyestuffs, pigments and helping agents – both natural and synthetic products are permitted – must be selected on the basis of IVN guidelines and may not contain any forbidden substances such as heavy metal dyes (exception: iron) or AZO-dyes which release amines. Only those printing processes are permitted that are based on water or natural oils, not those using discharge printing or aromatic solvents.
Finishing is another complex process in the textile chain. All processes that affect the look, the wearability or the care requirements of textiles involve this production step. The limitation of substances permitted by BEST makes some finishing processes often used for conventional textiles impermissible. Others are replaced by mechanical, thermic or other phyiscal processing. Only natural helping agents and non-genetically manipulated enzymes are permitted. Flame retardants are only allowed as an exception where national legislation requires it for certain products.
The last step is manufacturing, where clothes are sewn. Polyester (PES) sewing thread is permitted to increase seam strength, an aspect of the goal longlife/sustainability. However, this thread must be cotton covered. In contrast, embroidery yarns must be 100% natural fiber. Applications, lining, pockets, interface, seam binding, ribbons, cords, labels and lace must be 100% natural fiber. Shoulder pads, elastic bands or yarns and finishing lace may contain some synthetic materials in order to maintain the desired shape – again with the goal of longlife/sustainability. Buttons and snaps may only be made of natural products or metal. Zippers must be durable and may therefore be either metal or synthetic as long as they do not contain PVC. Metals used for buttons, zippers and clasps must be nickle and chrome-free.
Packaging and transport are also issues; products must be warehoused and transported so that contamination with conventional products and banned substances as well as an improper substitution is prevented. Businesses that produce both on a conventional and an eco-friendly basis must separate and clearly mark all ecological products and substances. Packing materials may not contain PVC. All transport vehicles and routes must be documented.
The consumer's prime concern is the quality of the finished product. That is why the BEST standard specifies technical quality parameters which must be met: color fastness to rubbing, color fastness to sweat, color fastness to light, shrinkage, color fastness in washing and, particularly important for infant wear, color fastness to saliva.
A justifiable consumer concern is that no health hazards arise through the finished product. BEST requires testing of all finished products for chemical residues, ensuring that no health damaging residues can rub off onto the skin or be activated by sweat. These residue limits are much more stringent than legal limits, offering additional assurance to the consumer.
Every processing facility involved in the production of a BEST certified product is obligated to maintain previously defined social standards which are monitored on site. BEST social standards are based on the core norms of the International Labour Organisation (ILO): that there be no forced or slave labor, the right to free association and contract negotiation be respected, that work conditions are safe and clean, there is to be no child labor, that wages are sufficient to cover costs of living, that there be no protracted working hours and no discrimination, that workers receive regular work contracts and that there be no disrespectful or inhumane treatment .